Gatlinburg. I cringe just thinking about the traffic, congestion, and development. It’s one of the last places I consider when thinking of good motorcycle riding. Today, my outlook may be changing.
US 321 north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 90% of the east-west traffic between I-40 and Gatlinburg will be on this road.
I’m closing in on the Gatlinburg – Pigeon Forge – Sevierville area, mapping west from I-40 in search of the best motorcycle rides. I’ve already found my best route to reach the city limits avoiding the traffic on US 321 along the north edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A few back roads linked together turn the chore of crossing the foothills downright enjoyable but now I’m getting into the towns.
Even so, I found a couple nice shortcuts today to skirt around the tourists, and there are number of promising roads waiting. The short winter days and roads strewn with road salt, grit, and lingering icy patches limit the miles I can cover efficiently before I turn tail and head home.
I shouldn’t complain about the traffic as it’s the dead of winter. Dollywood is closed. Much of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed. The memories of what happens once things warm up give me chills. I won’t quit until I find the best ways to go.
- Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here - AmericaRidesMaps.com
Add yet another rock slide to the long list of road closures in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. This one in particular will affect many motorcycle vacation plans to visit one of the most popular and well known rides in the region, the infamous Tail of the Dragon on US 129 at Deals Gap. Located along the western border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the 13 mile stretch of US 129 with it’s 311 curves draws hundreds of thousands of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts each year who come to experience the challenging stretch of road.
It’s been an exceptional year for rock slides in the Smokies, the most notable being the massive slide along the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has closed Interstate 40 for months. With both the east and west routes around the park closed, the only route allowing north-south travel from Tennessee to North Carolina is US 411 which cuts through the heart of the park and it too has been the scene of slides. US 441 is presently open, though cleanup continues on the northern spur road.
The Tail of the Dragon is still accessible from the North Carolina side. From Tennessee, the best route is through Tellico Plains and onto the Cherohala Skyway. Expect increased traffic loads on TN 68 approaching Tellico Plains due to yet another rock slide on US 64-74 in the Ocoee River Gorge which has shifted traffic onto it. As far as I can tell, it is still possible to reach Pumpkin Center from Vonure on the north end of the Dragon via the popular Dragon – Cherohala loop ride. Still, even more traffic will now be using these roads and you may want to reconsider visiting the area until things improve.
I’ve been reporting on the status of all the rock slides and road closures in my newsletter which you’ll find archived here – http://budurl.com/3smm. As there are so many, so widely scattered, it may be the easiest place to find all the information without bouncing around to various DOT sites (they are rarely as up to date). With so much going on, I’ll probably post an extra edition or two to keep you apprised of the situation and help with your motorcycle vacation plans. There is a lot going on you need to be aware of including the progress on the clean up to the Blue Ridge Parkway after severe winter storm damage, the closed section there, and all the roads which have been closed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for paving.
If you have early year travel plans to Robbinsville, Townsend, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or Franklin, I suggest you consider them carefully. Better alternative destinations for motorcycle touring would include Maggie Valley and Asheville. I’m am working with local lodgers to find you the best deals and affordable as well as luxury motorcycle friendly accommodations. I’ll be stepping up those efforts. Please email me for help. The changes in traffic patterns have severely impacted their business and there are some deals to be had. Watch the blog as I review them.
Finally, for America Rides Maps patrons, I want you to be aware these rock slides have impacted 3 of the 4 loop rides on the most popular map “Maggie Valley to Deals Gap and the Cherohala Skyway”. I strongly urge you to look at the “Waterfall Package” for the best alternative. These two maps will lead you into some of my favorite areas unaffected by the changing traffic patterns and open up a wealth of fantastic rides which are too often overlooked. These roads are the first place I head when looking for great riding, the first place I take tour groups, and hold everything you’ve come to expect from a motorcycle vacation in the Smokies.